How a Fitness App’s Heat Map Uncovers Military Bases | NYT

How a Fitness App’s Heat Map Uncovers Military Bases | NYT


In a remote part
of Afghanistan — a US military outpost. In the middle of Niger the outlines of an expanded
base and airstrip. In Syria, exercise routines and
possible patrolling routes on a base where American
special forces trained. By design, these secretive
locations are supposed to be difficult to spot. But a heat map posted
online by Strava, a company that tracks
people’s exercise routes, has inadvertently put these places
on public display for all the world to see. Many of the military
bases are already well known, like Bagram
and Kandahar air fields in Afghanistan. And the material
we’re revealing here doesn’t go beyond anything
that isn’t already available on the open web. But Strava’s platform has
drawn attention in a new way to the activity of military
personnel in far flung outposts and has laid bare some
loopholes in the security of military bases. How did this happen? Strava is an app
and social network that connects with
devices like Fitbit and is used to log workouts. It’s popular with U.S. soldiers
and others stationed abroad and the Pentagon has distributed
several thousand of them to its personnel. They use it to
track their exercise routines and everyday activities
like walks or patrols. But it also tracks
users’ locations, and in November 2017 the company updated
a map showing over 1 billion activities and
3 trillion GPS points. Twenty-year-old international
security student Nathan Ruser was the first to point out how
Strava’s map could compromise operational security. The map alone doesn’t
show the complete picture and its satellite
images are outdated, but it does tell
you where to look. So by combining it
with recent satellite imagery and other reporting, we
get a clearer sense of what’s happening on the ground. Take this new U.S. Air
Force Base in Sarrin, Syria. The map shows workouts are
walking routes — activities that provide a clear blueprint of the
base and by tracing the lines, we can follow soldiers to a
newly set up helicopter pad. Here’s what else we found. A new compound at a French
military site in Mali, Strava highlighted the camp
in the first place and no other mapping
platforms had marked the site. These U.S. forward operating
bases in Afghanistan. The location of a U.S. drone
base under construction in Agadez, Niger, and various
military facilities in Djibouti, where the U.S. is fighting
extremist groups in the Horn of Africa. And there are some
mysterious sites that we can’t yet identify. An area in the middle of the Nigerian desert. Two remote locations surrounded
by sand barriers in Yemen And here’s an unusual activity
in the desert in Mauritania that led us to a
suspected military site, including an extended
airstrip nearby. Strava also allows users
to share photos and workout routes. It’s basically
Facebook for athletes. This allows everyone
with an account to see who is working out
where. For example,
the “King of the Camp” run at a U.S. military base
in Iraq, or the
“Embassy River Wall Segment” in Baghdad’s green zone, or the perimeter base run
where more than 15 individuals stationed at a U.S. military base
challenge themselves. We found photos posted by users
from inside military bases and the online profiles
of several U.S. service members stationed at one
base near Mosul in Iraq. A Pentagon spokeswoman
said that this data release emphasized the
need for personnel to have situational awareness. And it’s assessing if any
additional training or guidance is required. There are some areas where
people presumably are not allowed to bring their
cellphones. User activity at C.I.A. and N.S.A. headquarters,
for instance, can be seen around the perimeters,
but not beyond certain points inside the structure. But out in the remote
corners of the world where the U.S. military
is operating, there’s plenty to see.

100 thoughts on “How a Fitness App’s Heat Map Uncovers Military Bases | NYT

  1. Good job on Strava. It's useful data that should definitely be public. It's not like it's being tied to a specific person anyways, so it's not a big privacy problem.

    And if you don't want to be on it… just don't use the app? Or maybe turn off location stuff in the settings?

  2. So long story short The Pentagon gave out fitbits to soldiers revealing secret bases to the world…. GG America, you so smart.

  3. NEVER EVER use location setting! Even then you are monitored. Good luck, humanity, you eating your self up…

  4. Shouldn't America should disclose the locations of its military bases to the citizens of the country it's in, even if it's just to keep ordinary citizens from wandering into a minefield or flying a drone over an air-strip by mistake.
    But then there's the issue of trust, if a foreign power has a military presence in a foreign country that it's not at war with then there's a certain level of transparency you need to maintain. What if a foreign power had military bases in America but they didn't tell you were those bases were or mow many were in them?

  5. so for everyone who still thought the usa wasnt also responsible for the war in syria besides iraq & afghanistan, here ya go, why would the usa have a military base in syria? what are they even doing there? and who allowed them there? yea, exactly.

  6. you probally can't see the activity around the cia and nsa because there are basically massive faraday cages that block almost all wireless signals when inside

  7. Terrorists are trying to hard by hacking stuff and doing suicide raids on bases when they can just Google up strava's heat map…..

  8. lmao anyone else notice North Korea has routes lit up too? https://www.strava.com/heatmap#11.56/125.63192/39.04678/hot/all

  9. If America was an imperialist country then we would own all the country’s that we are occupied in…. simple as that…. we would basically own most of the world tbh and I doubt anyone besides Russia or China would try to stop us

  10. For all those complaining about the USA just remember the 600 billion going into our military every year…. more then Russia and China combined

  11. If its supposed to be a secret why report on it? You're bringing more attention and maybe unwanted attention to the bases. Deal with it privately.

  12. if the CIA and NSA knows not to have a cellphone with themselves inside the building what does that tell us?

  13. Can you stop it with the static blur all ready. And stop changing shots every 4 seconds. Your editing is so anoying

  14. am i really the only one that turns down the internet connection in phone when using app that doesn't require it, at least to avoid annoying ads?

  15. Is the noise glitch effect really necessary? I am watching the New York Times, not a middle school student's video project about hacking.

  16. Very well done video, but the "glitchy" video effects were a bit overused to the point where they were kind of distracting.

  17. Heres an idea: dont put fitbits/strava on soldiers or bases that we want to keep a secret? This is the defense dept mistake not strava

  18. I felt so bad for thinking, this would be so good for movie/game/story plot device, but then I remembered how much I hate armies and weapons in general.

  19. But isnt calling these places out directly helping those who are willing to do bad things? I mean you can say that they exist but is there really a reason to just call out the specific location of those new bases?

  20. In the year 2013 president Obama was in charge. I think the whole system under Obama was corrupt, notice this as evidence. They "accidentally" putted secret military intel online for everyone! Secret intel.. accidentally.. haha what a joke. It is the safety of our Nation, family, future and soldiers!
    Would Putin be so stupid? Would Trump be so stupid? NO.

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